Active Recovery for Training

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The vital role recovery plays in conjunction with fitness routines cannot be understated. As trainers aiming to keep clients active and injury free, we need to educate them about passive and active recovery strategies.

Last month I talked about teaching our clients to implement passive recoveries as an integral part of their fit lifestyle. But active recovery can be incredibly beneficial in preventing:

  • Muscle loss
  • Fat Gain
  • Deconditioning

Let’s look at a few active recovery approaches worth discussing with clients. Active recovery includes light sessions, tapering, and deloading that all aim to take the intensity down a notch.

Light Sessions

Light sessions of work can be really impactful on the next vigorous workout. Clients train doing their usual exercises, but dial that rate of perceived exertion (RPE) 0-10, down ≤5, or about 25-50% of their max effort is recommended.

These light sessions are an opportunity to fine tune technique and proper form.


Tapering is a term many competitive athletes are familiar with. It’s helpful leading up to competition so that clients are not overtrained or fatigued when they toe the line. Tapering involves cutting back volume but not necessarily intensity.

For example, marathon runners don’t go from their longest training run to 26.2 miles the following week. They give themselves 3-4 weeks to cut miles, and the week before the big event they’re somewhere down around 12-15 miles for their final “long run.”

Tapering isn’t limited to competitive athletes, so consider giving your clients milestones to taper for.


Deloading is a term more familiar among avid powerlifters. In order for goal-oriented lifters working towards hypertrophy, strength, or peaking to be successful, it is important to program (periodize) cycles, or mesocycles. Deloading is one week within the mesocycle, often at the end, where lifting volume drops precipitously to about 30-50% from their maintenance volume (MV).

Deloads can be introduced to clients whose routine includes any progressively loaded weightlifting.

Supplemental Recovery

Active recovery is not limited to putting in work. In fact, there are some great supplemental recovery activities to consider incorporating as well.

No, I am not referring to vitamins or questionable herbal concoctions. Supplemental recovery includes but is not limited to hot and cold therapies, massage and myofascial release, compression garments, and even stress management.

Cold therapies cause vasoconstriction, reduce inflammation, and decrease pain. Heat therapies cause vasodilation, increase blood flow, and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Currently, there is a trend for combination therapy which uses both cold such as ice baths, followed by hot therapies in the sauna.

Compression garments increase blood flow, enhance nutrient uptake and waste removal, and decreases DOMS.

While the effectiveness of myofascial release such as foam rolling and deep tissue massage are still under debate they can be quite relaxing, and relaxation is an integral part of recovery.

What active recovery strategies do you encourage your clients to explore? 


Theresa Perales has an MA in Spanish, and is an ESL teacher at San Diego State University (SDSU). After years of struggling with her weight, she decided to give exercise a try. A passion for health and fitness grew instantly and inspired her to become certified as a personal trainer with NFPT, and as a group fitness instructor with AFAA Group Fitness and Madd Dog Athletics® Spinning. Theresa believes that nutrition and fitness are not about aesthetics but ultimately about feeling healthy and empowered.
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